Finally! Rugby in Australia is back. While there has been some lower profile Super Rugby trialling going on, the Australian rugby season now doesn’t officially start until the Sydney Sevens and it’s all happening this weekend.
Last year’s event was an absolute hit with the packed stadium being treated to perhaps the best Australian mens’ performance of the year as they came within seconds of defeated New Zealand in the final. This year, thanks to some heavy lobbying by the ARU, the Women’s Series has been included in the tournament giving Australians the chance to see our Rio Olympic champions in the flesh.
Season so far:
The Women’s World Series has just had the one event so far, back in December as part of the Dubai event. On that occasion the Aussie team, in the first outing since Rio, made their way through the preliminary rounds relatively easily before shaping up against the Rio Silver Medallists, New Zealand. The result was reversed this time however with the kiwis taking home the Cup Trophy as Australia made uncharacteristic errors, particularly in defence, throughout the game.
The men are coming off last week’s event in Wellington where they struggled against the big guns (Fiji and South Africa) on the first day before falling to Kenya by two points in the Challenge Trophy Final. While they only very occasionally challenged the top three in the world last year, the Aussies seemed to have slipped down the pecking order as the likes of England and Scotland continue to improve. South Africa, meanwhile, have taken their game to a new level and ran all over (and around) Fiji in the Cup Final to win their second Tournament of the series.
Shannon Parry (c)
Sharni Williams (c)
The loss of Emma Tonegato from the Australian squad that played in Dubai is somewhat overcome by the return to the team of the speed machine, Ellia Green. Green is joined by another Rio Gold Medallist in Evania Pelite who returns to the squad in place of Brooke Anderson. With eight members in the squad that brought home Olympic Gold last year, the team is a tantalising blend of experience and potential. Coach Tim Walsh must be thrilled that he has been able to bring through some of his younger players such as Penitani, Friedrichs, Sykes and Murphy to play alongside and learn from the likes of Parry, Willians, Cherry, Quirk and Caslick.
Sam Myers (c)
Dylan Pietsch (13th Man)
* Denotes debut tournament.
The rebuild continues with the Aussie Men’s team with three more players set to make their World Series debut in outside backs Brandon Quinn, Liam McNamara and Lachie Anderson. Hot on the heels of McDermott and Pietsch’s debut last week and the inexperience of the side is there for all to see. Apparently the average age is 22, which must fall into the teens if you removed the veteran James Stannard. While there may be concern as to the number of relatively inexperienced players being selected, the Australian Rugby public almost demanded change post-Rio and change has definitely happened, albeit a great deal through injury. It does mean it is an exciting time for our Aussie 7s team with the inclusion off untried talent.
Who to watch?
Ellia Green‘s return to the gold jersey will interest many rugby fans. Rated the fasted player in the world by her coach, Green is that X-Factor that can turn a game in a second. Mahalia Murphy and Emma Sykes are two new faces who could well finish this weekend as established stars such is their raw talent and pace. Finally, Alicia Quirk may not get the attention that some of her high profile team mates do, but this weekend watch her. Take the opportunity to marvel at her workrate and effort. It’s not all tackles and clear outs though. Check out this AMAZING pass for Murphy in the Dubai 7s as a simple example of her undervalued skill.
For the men given the relative youth of the side and the home town crowd it really is upon James Stannard to step up and navigate his team through a tough Day 1 and hopefully a trophy laden Day 2. Former leaguie Charlie Taylor was won of the standout for the Aussies last week in Wellington and will be an important element of Australia’s power game.
Friday 3 February games:
1.36pm AEDT: Australia v Brazil
4.18pm AEDT: Australia v Ireland
7.00pm AEDT: Australia v Fiji
It’s great to see Ireland on the world stage after they were a part of the demonstration matches the women’s team played in Sydney last year. Australia shouldn’t struggle on Day 1, although the competition will be a decent preparation for the finals on Saturday. Ireland took out the Challenge Trophy Final in Dubai, while Brazil held their own against the likes of Canada and Fiji finished in 5th in the tournament. While the Saturday and Sunday of the Sydney Sevens has sold out, there are still tickets available on Friday night when the women are playing. A post-work beer at the old SFS to watch our Golden Girls take on Fiji doesn’t seem a bad way to finish the week does it?
The travesty of the tournament is that all Women’s Quarter Finals will be played, not on the main field, but (as GAGR legend Lee Grant refers to it) “over the road on Kippax Field near the duck pond and surrounded by hundreds of cars parked there”. I am sure this is a complicated issue and the women’s leg was added to this tournament after Sydney had been awarded it. Already the event has been stretched to start on the Friday to accommodate the extra games, but it’s a slap in the teeth for the participating women’s teams that they are banished to the local park for the QFs. Anyone going to the event I’d encourage you to vote with your feet, grab a passout and head outside to support the women on the back field. Show them the support this brilliant team fully deserve.
Saturday 4 February games:
11.42am AEDT: New Zealand v Australia
3.59pm AEDT: Scotland v Australia
8.35pm AEDT Australia v Papua New Guinea
A tough gig first up but a definite crowd puller as the finalists from last year’s tournament face off early on. While the kiwis haven’t been on top of their game this season, any time the gold(y yellow) and black face off on the rugby field will be an encounter worth getting pumped up for. There’s no real respite after the All Blacks as Scotland, coming off a third placing in Wellington, will be sure to challenge the young Aussies in game two on Saturday arvo. Rounding up the day will be a late game against the rawness of PNG which is likely to be our first win of the tournament.
The women will be eager as anything to win the first ever Women’s Series event in front of a home crowd. The New Zealanders will be tough to beat, without doubt, but actually have drawn Canada who could cause an upset in that pool if they can improve on their showing in Dubai. I’m tipping a victory on home soil for our women.
The men have it all ahead of them. They could produce an upset against the kiwis early, which would be massive, however Scotland will start favorites after that. The win over PNG is likely to see us through to challenge, unironically, for the Challenge Trophy come day two on Sunday. Again, as per last week, we should be targeting this as our chance to win some bling ahead of a full house at Allianz Stadium.